|The look of horror and concern on Josh's face is appropriate. From: CUBuffs.com|
All credit to Washington here, they pounced the second CU showed any weakness. The young, athletic trio of Marquese Chriss, Dejounte Murray, and Malik Dime combined with the ever present scoring prowess of Andrew Andrews to pour down a torrent of points on the Buffs; the 95 allowed a season high. Andrews, as expected, put up amazing numbers, nabbing 33 points, and shooting 16-17 from the free throw line. What really stunned me, though, was their ability to crush CU in the trenches, swatting back 15 shots (seven from Dime alone), and out-rebounding the Buffs by five. That's just not what I expected from this matchup, with CU one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and the Huskies one of the most indifferent. It kept Colorado from finding any footing at Hec-Ed; not the first time.
|That's... not a good look. From: Yahoo Sports|
So, opportunity missed in Seattle (completely, utterly), Colorado heads out to the Palouse, looking for a bit of redemption and a split in the Evergreen State. Wazzou is the only team in the entire Pac-12 with a RPI ranking over 100, and it would be very damaging to the Tournament cause to drop this one. Beyond just redeeming the ugly performance against the Huskies, CU needs this one for preservation of the ole resume. Hopefully, they'll come out of the first frame tonight in much better shape than they did on Wednesday.
Hype Music for the evening: "Soak up the sun" by Sheryl Crow.
For a game against the Cougars, I present this beauty from Sheryl Crow. Figured it was appropriate, for some reason. Enjoy!
Tip off from Beasley Coliseum is set for 7pm this evening. Hey, the Buffs aren't going up against the Broncos this week! A perfect time for... a road game. *womp-womp* Coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
Up two with the ball and just 10 seconds to play in last year's regular season finale, it seemed as if all Colorado needed to do was get the ball in bounds to Askia Booker, and they would beat the Washington State Cougars. It was not to be, however. Ski did collect the inbounds, and was expectedly swarmed by Cougs, but the refs didn't see the traditional foul. Instead, they saw a held ball, which gave possession back to WSU. Senior DaVonte Lacy knocked in the game-tying bucket on the ensuing play, and Wazzou went on to roll in overtime. 96-91, just another in a string of gut-kicks in 2014-15.
In spite of the loss, I was impressed by two of the Buffs stars. First and foremost, Josh Scott was a monster, putting up 32/12 in 40 minutes of play. This was the moment I knew his road to recovery from lingering back issues was paying off. He was running easy in Pullman, beating defenders down the court, jumping freer than before, and otherwise dominating the paint. His performances had been trending up previously, but this one was declarative. Askia Booker also had a nice game, outside of the held ball, posting 26 points in his final regular season action in Black & Gold.
|A declarative effort from a recovering Josh Scott.|
The Cougars in '15-'16 -
RPI is not a perfect metric. The NCAA's preferred high-level statistical comparison is a reflection of a team's record, strength of schedule (most weight given), and that of their opponents, but not much else. It does not, very importantly, take into consideration things like player availability, when a game takes place, or the margin of victory, and incentivizes simply playing a team with a high RPI rating, rather than actually beating them. Despite all these gripes, the NCAA has been using the index in ranking 'member institutions' for playoff consideration in a number of sports, including basketball, since 1981, and it isn't going away anytime soon. Essentially, your RPI rating isn't important because it's an actual reflection of your ability as a basketball team, it's because the NCAA says it's important -- much like how an ACT or SAT score coming out of high school is not a true reflection of an individual's ability to succeed in college or the real world, but still damn important if you're trying to get into a decent school.
I start here because, in the world of practical RPI math and the ultimate goal of making the NCAA Tournament, keeping these things in the forefront of your mind as the calendar flips from January to February is essential for any basketball fan. The Pac-12, once an RPI doormat as recently as 2011-12, has, this season, turned into a juggernaut. Number two overall (just behind the Big XII, and climbing), 11 of the 12 teams in the league are in the RPI top-65; very strong, indeed. The lone holdout, though: Washington State. With a 9-9 record built, mostly, on garbage wins against teams in the RPI 150+, they are a comparative bottom-feeder, coming in to tonight's action 162nd in the country. This is a very roundabout way of saying that CU can lose to just about any team on this conference, and I wouldn't bat an eye. Washington State, though... the Buffs cannot lose to WSU, even on the road, and feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.
|WSU's win over UCLA is one of their few highlights this season. From: the SD Union Tribune.|
Where they do struggle, however, and mightily so, is on the defensive end. Isolating conference play, they're dead last in the league in overall efficiency (close to 1.2ppp), and 10th or 11th in almost every other major statistical category. It's why, in their five league losses, they're averaging allowing 91 points per, including their last, a 92-71 home loss to Utah that was self-described as 'soft.' For our purposes, please also note that the Cougars create turnovers at a league-worst 13% clip, and allow 27% of all first attempts in transition. Allow teams to hold on to the basketball and get out on transition, you say? Wow, that sounds like fun! What I'm saying that CU should be able to score at will against this team, especially in light of recent performances.
|It has mostly been a struggle for the Cougars this season. From: the Deseret News|
Overall, someone's got to be the worst team in a league, and it might as well be the Cougars. They take inefficient shots, give up a ton of good looks on the offensive end, and struggle with all facets of rebounding. That's nothing to be ashamed of in a conference as top-to-bottom strong as the Pac-12, but that also means that Colorado cannot afford a slip-up tonight.
Star Players -
Any and all talk about the Washington State roster must start in the paint with baby-face Josh Hawkinson. Averaging a double-double, Hawkinson is as versatile and dangerous on the offensive end as he is on the defensive glass. The 6-10 junior stretch forward's 17/11 averages are a strong second act for the reigning Pac-12 Most Improved Player, and the result of a continuing crusade to belie the limited expectations of a basketball world that had doubted him throughout his development.
|Defensive rebounds... they're what Josh Hawkinson lives for. From: Tucson.com|
Josh anchors a front line that is a little short-handed. Backup center Conor Clifford hasn't had nearly the impact the team was hoping, as the 7-0 JuCo transfer headed to Pullman over offers from a number of other regional heavies like Utah and Oklahoma State. He's big and beefy at a listed 283 lbs, and can be tough to move around, but hasn't yet lived up to his recruiting billing, only averaging 7/2 in a largely reserve role. After him, there's almost nothing else that I would consider a interior threat, especially as 6-10 junior Valentine Izundu has been on the sidelines with a foot injury, missing the last four games. Senior Junior Longrus is still there, but he has only scored a total of six points in five career appearances against Colorado.
|Iroegbu can be lightning-quick in attack. From: Tucson.com|
The remainder of the starting lineup features the backcourt pairing of Que Johnson and Charles Callison. Que's been around for a bit, now in his 3rd season in Pullman. A decent traditional wing, the true junior had had some nice games against CU, averaging 10 points per, and is a good three point shooter, as well (43%). Callison is the normal point guard in his first year as a JuCo transfer. Early in his D-I career he's posting decent assist and steal numbers.
Crafty veteran of the coaching game, Ernie Kent returned to the sidelines last season after an extended sabbatical to the land of broadcast television. The results were a mixed bag, but he surprised a lot of people by wringing seven conference wins out of his charges, including home victories over postseason standouts Stanford and Oregon. His Cougars sprinted on a nightly basis, pushing the offensive pace in a year of slugs while playing absolutely no defense, making them must-watch television in the Pac-12's night-shift schedule for pure entertainment value. I had fun, WSU even won some games, no problems here.
|Coach Kent has been struggling to lift the flags in Pullman this season. From: the AP|
My record on the year: 4-2. Against the spread: 2-3-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -0.33 pt/gm)
Lines as of Friday @ 8pm - CU -3.5, O/U 152
Yeesh, I've whiffed on two straight, and by massive margins, too. Time to drag out an old crutch, and flip a coin. Specifically, this 2007 Utah-backed quarter from the Denver Mint that I found in the lint collector of my dryer last night. First for winner, tails is CU ('cause tails never fails)... *flips* ... and it's TAILS! OK, now for margin of victory, heads is small, tails large... *flips* ... TAILS AGAIN! Fair enough, fate. Gimmie the Buffs by a bunch.
CU 82 - WSU 71
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME AND THAT DAMN QUARTER RIGHT, AND BEAT THE COUGARS!